- Animals, Work, and the Promise of Interspecies Solidarity by Kendra Coulter
Animals, Work, and the Promise of Interspecies Solidarity covers a vast intellectual terrain by bringing contemporary work and labour issues together with thinking about animals, nature, and social relations. In this compact and innovative work, Kendra Coulter makes a unique contribution to a subfield that is only just emerging. The book challenges us to question the separation of the human and natural world, and through the [End Page 307] lens of work and labour processes, to begin to think about how animals' lives are interwoven with various forms of human social relations. Animals, Work, and the Promise of Interspecies Solidarity employs a range of research methods, ranging from policy analysis to ethnographical participant observation to make an argument for the importance of conceptualizing interspecies labour. Coulter proposes "a multifaceted and contextual approach to understanding work involving animals, one that is genuinely multispecies and that takes both human and animal well-being seriously." (2) Coulter's work, and the broader field of critical animal studies, seeks to extend the scholarship of social justice and "engaged theory" beyond the realm of humans. This book is an ambitious effort toward that objective.
The book begins with an impressive introduction that will be helpful to readers unfamiliar with research in animal studies. Coulter makes a convincing case for broadening the approach of labour studies to include animal work and human-nonhuman relations, and outlines how she will pursue this throughout the book. She divides the three chapters of the book into "The Work Done With/For Animals" (Chapters 1 and 3), and "The Work Done By Animals" (Chapter 2).
Chapter 1 deals with "Daily Work and Labor Processes." Here Coulter reviews literature from the tradition of symbolic interactionism that focuses on ethno-graphically observing animal-human relations in the context of work, as well as labour process theory that includes animals in discussions of how work is organized and structured. She seeks to connect the insights drawn from these two influences to better understand labour processes involving animals. The strongest portion of this chapter, however, is its treatment of the political and economic dynamics shaping work with or for animals. For example, Coulter points out that because much work with animals falls within the realm of agriculture, the lack of labour rights and protections which negatively affect human working conditions have a further deleterious impact on animals. Coulter highlights throughout the book the relationship between the quality and pay of labour and the treatment that animals receive under the care or supervision of workers. In short, the better the conditions and pay, the more likely animals are to be better treated and cared for. This argument forms part of her case for the shared interests of humans and animals at work, for "interspecies solidarity."
Coulter also discusses the industrialization of animal food production, noting the centralization and rationalization of the labour process and production system that accompanied it. Here, she further links the violence and mistreatment done to animals to the drive for profit, pointing out the contradictions this often generates for farmers and farm workers when the commodity being raised for market is in fact a sentient being. When labour-saving technologies are introduced or speed up on the shop floor takes place, it is not only workers who experience the effects; more animals are killed, and the pain and suffering they endure may be increased, or the conditions and time required for workers to attend to their needs prior to death is limited. As she points out, care requires time, the very thing that businesses processing animals' flesh wish to shrink in the drive to increase production.
Chapter 2 moves to a discussion of "The Work Done By Animals." Coulter pursues her conceptualization of animals' work by way of a post-humanist (or as she puts it "beyond humans") framework. She seeks to not only explore the work that animals perform in its historical and contemporary relationships to human society, but, in keeping with [End Page 308] the...